Month-long delays ‘are costing lives’

Waiting can be fatal in the case of mouth cancer.
Waiting can be fatal in the case of mouth cancer.

Mouth cancer campaigners the British Dental Health Foundation believe survival rates of the disease could plummet following an investigation into the amount of time people wait before seeking medical help.

The research revealed those displaying the early warning signs of mouth cancer are more likely to put themselves at risk by waiting longer before seeking professional diagnosis than any other form of cancer.

The study, published in the International Journal of Cancer, discovered people waited almost a month between spotting mouth cancer symptoms and visiting their GP, a delay that could be crucial to their survival.

The study also discovered that people with bladder and kidney cancer symptoms wait the least amount of time, registering just two to three days before visiting their GP.

The British Dental Health Foundation identified over half (51 per cent) of people would wait four weeks or more to seek medical advice if they had a non-healing ulcer, a classic sign of the disease.

The statistics highlight a worrying lack of awareness when it comes to identifying mouth cancer symptoms. Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter OBE, stressed the importance of knowing the signs and symptoms of one of the fastest growing cancer variations.

Dr Carter said: “It is of great concern that people wait almost a month before seeking medical advice about their symptoms. It also points to a lack of knowledge about what the signs and symptoms actually are.

“The challenge in relation to mouth cancer is to ensure that, due to the very nature of the disease, patients are seen quickly. Most people with mouth cancer present late as stage 4 – the most advanced stage where time is of the essence in potentially saving a life.

“This makes early detection absolutely crucial in transforming survival rates. Those leaving their symptoms for such a long period of time are potentially risking a late diagnosis, something that reduces five year survival rates to as low as 50 per cent. With the benefit of early diagnosis, survival rates can increase to up to 90 per cent.

“Classic symptoms of mouth cancer include mouth ulcers that do not heal within three weeks, red and white patches in the mouth and unusual lumps or swellings in the mouth. Through tobacco use, drinking alcohol to excess, a poor diet and exposure to the human papilloma virus (HPV), often transmitted via oral sex, individuals place themselves at risk from a disease that kills more people than cervical and testicular cancer combined.

“Our message to anyone with these symptoms is very clear – if in doubt, get checked out.”

The study analysed 10,297 English patients diagnosed with one of 18 cancers. More than half (56 per cent) of patients presented their symptoms promptly, with bladder and renal cancer the most prompt. Oro-pharyngeal and oesophageal cancers were least frequent.


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